Thursday, July 24, 2014

When Palestinians Live Up to Israel’s Moral Example

I was sent today a blog post by a self-described“progressive” rabbi entitled, “I’m Done Apologizing for Israel.” After repeating the standard hasbara talking points  the rabbi concludes, “We must do what we can to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else.”

The rabbi and I are in fundamental agreement about this conclusion. Israelis have the right to protect their own people and are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. But that “anyone else” includes the Palestinian people, and, as a progressive, he surely doesn’t hold that Israelis are more deserving of life and quiet than they are. So the rabbi must hold that the Palestinians have the same right to protect their people, and the same right to self-defense that Israel does. Like Israel, they have the right to wage war, not with primitive rockets, but with tanks, missiles, and fighter jets. The Palestinians have the right to do whatever it takes to provide themselves with the security and pride that the IDF provides Israelis. Furthermore, the Palestinians, like the Israelis, have the right to determine their own destinies and not depend on others to treat their wounded, or to provide them with building materials, or to ration different products, or to restrict their movement in the name of the other’s security. The Palestinians do not have the right to restrict the importation of materials into Israel, to control where Israelis can fish, to blockade Israeli ports, to restrict Israeli movement – unless, like the Israelis, they consider it vital for their security.

Perhaps the rabbi may reply at this point, “Hang on -- in principle, I grant that Palestinians have these rights, but first they have to prove to Israel and to the world that they can run their state in a civilized manner.” In other words, unlike those Israelis who chant “Death to the Arabs,” who pull up chairs and cheer when the IDF drops bombs on Gaza killing overwhelmingly civilians, who call for revenge and bombing Gaza into the stone age, and who justify holding millions of people indefinitely in an open-air prison, in the name of security, in short, who control not only their own lives and destinies, but the lives and destinies of millions of other in a horrendous occupation – the Palestinians must be held to the same moral standard that Israel was held to before it could have a recognized state, an advanced military, and self-determination.

Fair enough. So here is my proposal for the progressive rabbi. Let Israel unilaterally withdraw from all occupied territories and place them for ten years under a UN trusteeship. At the end of those ten years, during which the Palestinians equip themselves with a powerful army, the Palestinians will unilaterally declare a state, and will continue forcefully expelling from its lands those Israeli settlers, whether peaceful or not, who are a perceived threat to its territorial contiguity.  If Israel wishes, it can attack the Palestinian state, but that state will be justified to retaliate, and  if successful, it will be justified, in the name of its security, to seize additional territory, turn millions of Israelis into refugees, bar their return, expropriate their land, place some of them under occupation, and the rest under military rule. Then, when the Israelis under Palestinian occupation elect a political leadership that has a military wing,  the Palestinians can arrest the politicians and place the Israelis under a siege.

Only when Palestinians achieve this moral bar – and it is not an easy bar to attain -- will the Israelis and their supporters be expected to recognize the State of Palestine.

In fact, their recognition of the Palestinians state will be considered a precondition for the recognition of their own state, a demilitarized state that will be established on a fraction of the historical Land of Israel.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Does the Hamas Response to Israel’s Abrogation of the Cease Fire Violate Just War Principles?

The beginning of the current round of hostilities should be dated from Israeli actions in a Gaza tunnel that resulted in the deaths of six Hamas militants. Although Israel denied responsibility, it admitted that it had carried out operations in the area that plausibly led to the incident. This was Monday night, and Hamas retaliated with rockets. A time line can be found here; thus started the current round of hostilities.

If we assume that Israel had a hand, directly or indirectly, in the deaths of the Hamas militants, that would be a serious breach of the cease fire, and, assuming that no other effective recourse was open to it, it would be permissible for Hamas to retaliate militarily, at least according to just-war theory.  It would be hard to argue that just war theory can only apply to state actors, and that Hamas, a “terrorist organization”, is not a state actor – because Israel considers Hamas to be the governing body of Gaza, and hence accords to it some of the responsibilities of a state actor. (This would be different, for example, were Hamas to be operating in the West Bank in areas under Israel’s direct control.)

The only principle I can think of that would counter this is that the Palestinians do not have a right to self-defense. I can’t think of any convincing argument for this.

So having established that the Palestinians in Gaza have a right to self-defense, and hence, to retaliate (jus ad bellum), the question would then turn to the morality of their conduct of military operations (jus in bello) And here they are on much weaker ground, since their conduct consists solely in indiscriminate rocket firing towards civilian targets.

Yet this is where the question gets interesting:  were the Palestinians to have a serious weapons capability, and were they then to fire indiscriminately then it is clear that their conduct of the operations would violate just war principles. The same would certainly be true if Hamas turned to suicide bombing. But, paradoxically, the primitiveness of the rockets, together with the Iron Dome defense, and Israel’s early warning system, has so far guaranteed few if any civilian casualties. True, there is some damage, and certainly there is the inconvenience of having to go to shelters, and the rockets make people anxious, despite the heavy odds against them being hurt. It may be irrational to buy a lottery ticket, given the odds, but people do all the time. Still, the fact that the odds  that a given person will be actually hurt by a Kassam rocket are extremely low, virtually nil, given early warning systems and Iron Dome, plus the Hamas’ militants knowledge of this fact, suggest that if this method of conduct is not just (and I don’t think it is), it is a lot less unjust than the Israeli response, which has claimed to date over a hundred lives, most of whom are civilians.  It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the Israeli public’s suffering does not compare to that of the Gazan people on any metric; the Israelis have a highly effective defense against primitive weapons, whereas the Gazans have no defense at all against highly sophisticated and deadly weapons.

So both sides are committing war crimes, but those of Hamas pales in comparison to those of Israel. And this, of course, without reference to the fact that Israel broke the cease fire. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Latest Gaza Op: Groundhog’s Day? Or Frozen?

The nightmare returns. It starts with Israelis killing Palestinians, Palestinians killing Israelis, whomever.  Israel decides that it “has to” kill Hamas militants. Or it “has to” round up the usual suspects. Eventually, Hamas “has” to retaliate by sending rockets that traumatize the heck out of people but rarely injure anybody.  This annoys the hell out of Israel, which “has to” escalate by killing more militants, often senior ones. Then Hamas really sends barrages of rockets. And at the end of the day – and the night is still young – some Israelis are wounded, on very rare occasions there are fatalities,  and tens, maybe hundreds, of Gazans are killed, many of them civilians, most of them non-combatants. And the destruction in Gaza is horrific.

And the world? Well, the world reports two things: the number of rockets fired against Israel, and the number of casualties on both sides. Nobody cares that that the firepower that  hits in Gaza in a few days  is more deadly and horrific than what falls in Israel in a few years.

And, like the movie Groundhog’s Day, we condemn ourselves to repeat this ritual of death and killing periodically.  Some cynics call it “spring cleaning,” the need  to deplete periodically Hamas stockpile of weapons.  And Hamas “has to” play the game, even though they know they are going to lose, because they have to retaliate, right? I mean, they aren’t exactly a peace movement, and they can’t lose face, can they?  We wouldn’t sit still; why would they?

It is 10:30 in Jerusalem. A siren half an hour ago sent our  two grandchildren, who came to us for safety from Tel Aviv, to the reinforced room. Maybe tomorrow we’ll stay with my daughter in the South.

Netanyahu decided that we have to escalate.  I mean, we have to do something, don’t we? We can’t just sit here!

There is nothing inevitable about this. We didn’t have to kill two innocent Palestinians in May at the Beitunia protest, and then suggest that the video which captured the killing  was faked.  We didn’t have to round up Hamas political leaders and imprison prisoners released in the Shavit swap after the murder of three Jewish students, when we had grounds to believe that they were murdered. When we suspected that two members of a rogue Hebron clan were involved, and Hamas did not take responsibility, we could have kept out of Gaza. We were playing with fire when we thought up ways of undermining the Fatah-Hamas unity government.

So, as usual, we are reaping what our leaders have sowed. Sure, Hamas leaders  bear some responsibility.  But while they are safe underground, the Gazans are suffering and dying. Every hour the numbers of their fatalities will go up, until we decide that too many fatalities will just get another Richard Goldstone involved.

Remember how yesterday the whole Jewish world mourned the death of an innocent Palestinian child? Today, how many of those “mourners” give a damn about the deaths of innocent children in Gaza?

Groundhog’s Day? Or Frozen?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

How Mainstream Israelis Cope with Jewish Terrorists

Moral chauvinism is the view that a certain people is morally superior to another. It’s hard to find peoples or nations that aren’t afflicted with it. I believe that we Jews are especially afflicted with it because, traditionally, we have had to compensate for our lack of political power, and we have had to explain to ourselves why we were the chosen people, despite the fact we were living as a minority under a majority religion.  They were stronger; we were more moral.

Moral chauvinism has taken a beating in Israel the last few days, and here are some of the psychological mechanisms that will enable Israelis to cope with the revelation that Jewish terrorists are (still allegedly) responsible for the murder of Mr. Abu Khedir. 

1.  Shock. “Omigod, there are Jewish terrorists?”  This is a particularly bizarre reaction, since there have been Jews killing innocent Palestinian Arabs throughout the history of Zionism, whether in or out of uniform.  In fact, honor/revenge killings, or other criminal activity, is as Jewish as cholent – or as Arab as humus. Jews are people, and people, especially ignorant and barbaric people, take revenge in this way. Why should Jews be any different?  I hear this reaction every time Jews commit crimes of this sort. Nobody remembers the Jewish Underground. Nobody remembers Ami Popper. Nobody remembers Barukh Goldstein. Nobody remembers the Jewish terrorists before the state. And I am not even talking about the ones in uniform. 

2. Emotional over-reaction. Rabbi Daniel Landes of Pardes Institute wrote in my opinion a particularly wrong-headed post in which he said that Jewish terrorists should be punished the way Palestinian terrorists are punished, by blowing up their family houses, etc. This is supposed to be fair? The fact is that justice is served in neither case. If blowing up a house as retribution/deterrence is wrong – and it is wrong, period – then why blow up anybody’s house, Jew or Arab?

3.  Belittling. We are going to see a lot of this in the coming weeks. “Sure, this was a despicable deed, but we have so few terrorists compared to them.” How many people are going to argue, “Considering we have an army, and a border police, who carry out “retaliatory” actions and collectively punish Arabs under the name of deterrence, the fact that this is not good enough for some of us speaks volumes about who better controls their lust for vengeance, Jews or Arabs.”

4. Sympathy for the families of the terrorists.  I remember this from the 1980s and the Jewish Underground.  In the beginning, the perpetrators were condemned, then money was raised for their families (why should they suffer?) and the criminals’ defense (aren’t they entitled to one?) and little by little, they underwent a rehabilitation, without expressing remorse and regret. That, and presidential pardons, did the trick. Those who were collecting money for the families of Jewish terrorists would never think to do that for the families of Arab terrorists.

5. “Should our sister be made a harlot”? Condemn the perpetrators not for taking revenge, but for taking revenge in the way that revenge was taken.  After all, isn’t Jewish honor a supreme value? (Answer: no.)

There is a pattern in these things that repeats itself: shock, condemnation, outrage, vows of punishment, then as time passes, commuted sentences, pardoned perpetrators, and life goes on. This is particularly true of those murderers who have political clout, such as those in the Jewish Underground of the 1980s. There is noise every time there is a price-tag crime, and occasionally suspects are rounded up. But how many trials and how many convictions, and how many people are actually sent to jail? Only the lone wolves,  without any political lobby,like Ami Popper.

And the most prevalent way of coping:

6. Change the channel to the Mondial.

What is Necessary for a Decent Religious Zionism

In the preceding post I spoke about Israeli religious Zionism today. I did not mean to say that all religious Zionists in Israel adopt the morality of the enlightened colonialist or that of the unenlightened tribalist.  That’s not the case. But sadly,  I cannot think of one Israeli-born and educated rabbi whose moral teachings fall outside that spectrum.  (Readers are invited to send me names, and directions where I can send my donation.)

Religious Zionism wasn’t always like this, and it doesn’t have to be. By “religious Zionism” I mean a Zionism that rests on a Jewish religious world-view. Since there are many “Zionisms” and many “Jewish religious world-views” that’s a very broad definition. “Religious Zionism” more narrowly defined is the belief that Jewish self-determination in the Land of Israel has religious significance, that it is a Divine blessing, or at the very least a positive challenge, and not a curse or a punishment, or neutral. Even this is vague, because religious people will disagree over how God works in history, and how fathomable is his plan.  For some, the state of Israel is the beginning of the final redemption; for others it is the actual redemption; for still others, who are more modest in their claims, it is simply a very good thing for the Jewish people; we should see God’s hand in it, and thank Him accordingly.

I never was a statist religious Zionist. States have no religious significance for me, and although I believe that history is not neutral or indifferent, I am inherently skeptical about identifying God’s working in it.  So I was never even remotely attracted to the notion that the State of Israel was athalta de-geulah, the “beginning of redemption,” and I have always shared Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s characterization of the Gush Emunim/settler movement as a perversion of Judaism.

The more I became educated about the Palestinian Catastrophe, the more I became certain that it is as wrong to look for God’s hand in the establishment of the State of Israel just as it is wrong to look for God’s hand in the  Holocaust.  To attribute a religious meaning to either Shoah or Nakba beyond the admittedly deflationary idea that the response to both should be soul-searching and teshuvah/repentance, is inappropriate at best, sacrilegious at worst.  Of course, one can be happy in one’s lot, and one can be grateful for a Jewish home or homeland, and in that sense, the religious person will want to God to thank for that. If a drunk driver is the only survivor of a car crash for which he is responsible, he may thank God that he lives, even though he has caused the death of others.  But to see his survival as God’s“miracle”? Hardly.

Once I was asked whether I thought that the establishment of the State of Israel was a miracle.  Well, my God doesn’t make miracles that cost innocent people their lives, liberty, and land.  I am not interested in any god that has anything to do with causing the suffering of innocents. Worshipping such a god is idolatrous, in my opinion.  

Religious Zionism did not have to go down that route, and indeed, as I have written before, some of it did not. (See also here.) From the  beginning there were a handful of religious Zionists who were sensitive, sometimes more sensitive than the secularists, to what Zionism was doing to the natives of Palestine. They were educated in Europe, and so perhaps some religious Zionists would say today that they had a galut/exilic mentality. In any event,  they refused to have a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs. And when they were unsuccessful in stopping such a state from arising, they protested the injustices committed in its  name.

What are the necessary conditions for a decent religious Zionism? (I say “decent” rather than “ideal,” lest I be accused of positing an unattainable high standard.)   The first condition is hakaret ha-het, the  recognition that we Jews have sinned, and continue to sin, against the Palestinian people. This is the greatest moral challenge facing the Jewish people today. The second condition is teshuva, returning/repenting, making amends for what have done, and what we do.  For a Zionist, that specifically means, in addition to addressing the needs of the Palestinians today, creating a political framework in the Land of Israel/Palestine that is a decent and fair political framework for all its people. Within that framework some measure of Jewish self-determination can be attained, but not at the expense of Palestinian Arab self-determination, and with neither self-determinations at the expense of the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of all.  This is the attainable goal to which we can aspire, and insofar as one attributes to that goal religious significance, that is what religious Zionism could become, im yirzeh ha-Shem, insha’Allah, if God wills.

That is, if we will it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Religious Zionism and Its Moral Defects

[Update: This post, written out of the pain I felt last week, gave the impression that all religious Zionists range from enlightened colonialists to mafia-morality tribalists.  That’s not true. I happen to know personally several religious Zionists  who are moral exemplars, who recognize our guilt has perpetrators of crimes against the  Palestinian people, and who do what they can to achieve peace and justice. Their voices are barely heard in orthodox Jewish circles and almost never amplified in the press. It may be hyperbolic to say so, but when it comes to religious Zionism as a movement, they are the righteous in Sodom.]

[Second update: the translation of Noam Perel’s statement has been changed; h/t to Shunra for pushing me on this, though I still claim there is a double entendre, for which, see Comments.]

It’s time to say this out loud: the most morally distasteful form of Judaism today is Israeli religious Zionism. I am not just referring to the ultra-nationalist religious Zionist rabbis and their minions, who claim religious authority for their mafia morality. These are the  garden-variety racist/bigots  common to all ultra-nationalist religious fundamentalisms. I am not even referring to somebody like Noam Perel, the General Secretary of World Bnei Akiva, the main religious zionist youth group, who wrote on his Facebook status earlier today:

An entire people and thousands of years of history demand vengeance. The government of Israel has convened a meeting of vengeance, which is not a meeting of mourning. The landlord (master of the house) has gone crazy at the sight of his sons’ bodies, a government that will convert its army to an army of vengeance, a soldier that will not be stopped at the “line of 300”  [kav 300] Philistine foreskins, through the blood of the enemy the disgrace will be atoned, not through our tears.

The operative term here is not only “vengeance” but disgrace, the disgrace that the superior  feels when he is successfully wounded by an inferior.   Like the hate-filled whites in the segregated US south, Israelis of this sort feel humiliated and violated by any Palestinians with any power. How dare these pishers murder our boys?

And when the negative reactions came in to Perel’s inflamed rhetoric, and they did, he was quick to clarify that he wanted the government and the army to take vengeance, for the sake of deterrence, as it had done in earlier cases of reprisal raids. In other words, killing and terrorizing civilians in the name of Jewish honor  (a.k.a. ‘establishing deterrence’)  should be left to the state and its army, and not to private initiative.

Whew, now that makes me feel a lot better!

It’s easy to go after somebody crippled by religious Zionist education like Noam Perel, who represents the mainstream.  But my argument is also with “liberals” like Rabbi Benny Lau in his  response to Perel. Let me first say that I agree with Rabbi Benny on many things, and that when it comes to religious Zionist rabbis,  I think that he is the best of the lot. (Full disclosure: I attend his synagogue.)

Lau criticizes Perel for running away with his emotions, for reacting with the anger of a fifteen-year old (By the way, my fifteen year old children never reacted that way). Here are some excerpts of Lau’s response to Perel, interspersed with my comments. After Lau strongly condemns the call for revenge, he  writes,

“We pray that God will take vengeance of our enemies, but do we want the character traits of our enemies?”

Commentary:  Arabs seek vengeance because it is in their nature. 

“We have a state, an army, a defense establishment, and prayer.”

Commentary:  God forbid the other side should have the dignity of having a state, an army and a defense establishment.  After all, they don’t have the same rights to self-defense that we do.

“We tell our students the words of Golda Meir, who said that she will not forgive our enemies  who cause us to raise generation after generation of soldiers. We turn to God with our appeal because we become people who fight not according to our nature.”

Commentary: Jews are by nature peace-loving; it’s only because the Arabs want to drive us into the sea that we have an army. It’s not because of national pride, or because of the peer pressure of eighteen-year olds,  or because a Jewish state should have a Jewish army.  We are most unwilling soldiers.

“Do we want to anoint for ourselves a culture that is completely evil? That is foreign to what we represent.”

Note there is no call for empathy for all victims, not to mention empathy with the natural desire for all people to live a life of dignity, free from humiliation.  Note that by definition, it’s the Other, not the Jew, who has all the negative traits.  If Rabbi Lau was not suggesting that Arab culture is a culture of evil, why doesn’t he take the opportunity to make that clear?

“To call for the authorities not to make concessions when a citizen is harmed is justified, but between this and the call for vengeance there is a deep gap.”

Commentary: What concession is the rabbi referring to? Blowing up the homes of the alleged assailments, collective punishment for the families of the innocent-until-proven-guilty suspects?

In Rabbi Lau’s statements above, substitute “Christian” or “Englishman” for “Jew” or “we”, and substitute “African” or “Indian” for “our enemies”, and you have your garden-variety colonialist morality of the Age of Empire.  To be sure, the practical consequences or Rabbi Benny’s rebuke are much better than those of Perel. The abhorrent theological belief  that God is a vengeful God (Maimonides allegorized the verses away) may help to restrain the passion that all humans qua humans feel. And restraining passions is a good thing in these instances.

But moral chauvinism and feelings of Jewish superiority simply ooze from the rabbi’s words.  And if that’s the best religious Zionism has to offer – and it is – well, no, thanks. I grew up hearing my Christian friends rebuke their fellow Christians by saying, “True Christians don’t do those sorts of things.”

Well, guess what? They do, and did. And so do Jews, who are no different from all other folks, neither better nor worse.

Except that here, in Israel/Palestine, we Jews have virtually all the power.  And we use it, all the time whining about Jewish honor, as if we were cowering before the nobleman and his dog.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Case for a BDS Coalition

There is a rule in movement politics: Your greatest rival is the one closest to you ideologically.

Supporters of the global BDS movement, the movement that arose as a response to the three calls of the Palestinian civil society organizations, are at best wary, and more likely,  dismissive, of progressive Zionists who support this or that boycott, divestment, or sanction measure against the continuing Occupation. Critics rightly note that these progressive Zionists are willing to settle for a “two-state” solution that doesn’t begin to do justice to the three divided constituencies of Palestinians: those under a brutal 67 occupation, those “citizen strangers” of Israel, and those exiled from their homeland.  Moreover, many of the supporters of the global BDS movement would oppose a Jewish hegemonic state anywhere on the planet, indeed, or even if it were located on some unoccupied territory of the Moon, simply because it is foundationally discriminatory against another group based on religio-ethnicity.

So why should the supporters of the global BDS movement pay much attention, much less give legitimacy, to what Peter Beinart has called, “Zionist BDS”?  Why should there be an unofficial coalition between these two groups? After all, insofar as Zionist BDS succeeds, so does a Jewish hegemonic state, one that excludes Palestinian refugees,  discriminates against non-Jews (and non-orthodox Jews in matters of personal status), and dominates a collection of Bantustans called “(New?) Palestine”.

Here’s why:

First, any call for boycott, divestment, or sanctions, for whatever motive (even on behalf of the settlers!) is seen, rightly, as a blow against the legitimacy of Israel. Progressive Zionists can protest until they are blue in the face; they can argue that they are acting out of the most statist-Zionist of motives; they can point to polls of Israelis who favor ending the Occupation – little of this matters. Even if their boycotting appears to some to be no more than a “liberal chic” tokenism that allows them to sleep better at night,  it will be rightly perceived by the pro-Israel crowd as  a threat, even an “existential one,” to use Prime Minister Netanyahu’s characterization of all  BDS.

Second, any call for boycott, divestment, or sanctions, however limited, is enhanced when those making the call present themselves as supporters of the boycott’s target.  An alcoholic who abuses someone should be turned into the police -- but when the person making the call is his brother, that makes a huge statement of the limits of familial loyalty.   I believe that when the history of the BDS movement is written, Peter Beinart’s call for “Zionist BDS” in the New York Times will deserve more than a footnote. I personally agree much more with Omar Barghouti’s Times op-ed. But “Zionist BDS” was written by  a former editor of the New Republic, a supporter of the second Iraq war, and a Zionist who attends an orthodox Jewish synagogue. “Zionist BDS” made a splash, and people who had not heard of BDS, and if they did, had associated it with Forces of Evil, heard for the first time “one of their own”  use the phrase “BDS” in a positive manner.

Third, the goal of the BDS movement, at least in my eyes, is not to punish the State of Israel. We are not talking about  retributive justice for the sake of justice, much less revenge for the sake of revenge.  The goal of the BDS movement is to get Israel to obey human rights protocols and human rights law, with respect to all sectors of the Palestinian people.  I daresay that the global BDS movement is not even a pro-Palestinian movement, except in the sense that the people whose fundamental rights are violated upon happen to be Palestinians. It is in its essence a human rights movement.

Fourth, the goals of BDS will not be achieved until a critical mass of Israelis, or at least their leaders, realize the unsustainability of the status quo.  This is one of many lessons from South Africa.  And what will enable that realization is being educated by people whom they consider trustworthy.

So what does this mean in practice? Minimally, the public disagreement between the sides should be respectful, but not blurred, with neither side dissing the other.  Both sides should wage a common fight against the brutal Occupation.  Since I don’t believe the Occupation is ending anytime soon, this will allow both sides to forge relationships that will lead to much more than a tactical alliance.  The pro-Palestinian side  will come to grips with the fact that there are over six million Jews living in Palestine; the pro-Israeli side will come to grips with the fact that Jewish hegemony cannot be morally sustained in an ethnic exclusivist state. Many on both sides have done so already.

Let there be a joint struggle, or, perhaps more realistically, an alliance of overlapping moral interests.  This is not normalization or endless dialogue; this is good old fashioned  coalition politics. There may very well come a stage when the assistance of the progressive Zionist crowd is not helpful or even welcome, when the Palestinian side has achieved enough strength and recognition to press on its own. (Cf.  whites and blacks in the US civil rights movement). There certainly will come a time when progressive Zionists have to choose between their contradictory values, and many are already making that choice.

As for the global BDS movement, there are rightly saluting the recent decision of the Presbyterian church in the US to divest from companies profiting from the occupation, despite the fact that the resolution explicitly reaffirms Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state and affirms the two-state solution, and takes no stand on the right to return but rather calls for justice for Palestinian refugees.

What comes next? The great Moses Maimonides/Ben Maimon/Ibn Maymun says in his Code of Law that one has a duty to rebuke his neighbor when the latter commits a wrongdoing. When it comes to interpersonal matters,  that rebuke should be done privately, taking care not to shame the wrongdoer. But in “matters concerning Heaven,” if the private rebuke isn’t effective,  the wrongdoer “is put to shame in public and his sin is publicized. He is subject to abuse, scorn, and curses until he repents, as was the practice of all the prophets of Israel.” (Laws Concerning Ethical Dispositions 6:8.)

The global BDS movement doesn’t call for the elimination of Israel, much less its destruction. It calls for Israel to “repent” by recognizing the rights of Palestinians enshrined in international law and conventions. Progressive Zionists will disagree, no doubt, on what Israel’s wrongdoing consists in.But it is time for “public shame, abuse, scorn and curses,” not as a punishment, or as revenge, but in the goal of human rights.

For if the plight of the Palestinians is not a “matter concerning heaven,” I don’t know what is.

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Response to U Wash Progressive Zionists

Dear Shahar and Ruth,

Thank you for answering my call to respond.

We clearly disagree over principles and tactics. On principles, I have maintained consistently for some time that the fundamental question is not what sort of political arrangement is best for the peoples of Israel/Palestine, although clearly that is a very important question. The fundamental question is how best to guarantee life, liberty, and the flourishing of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in whatever framework that emerges,  two states, federation, one state, etc.  I have no a priori commitment to any particular state or configuration of states.

I wonder whether progressive Zionists are really pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian (as J Street U says). If they were, they would not consistently favor Israel’s security over Palestine’s security; they would support two-state proposals that empower Palestinian (more territory, end of settlement blocs, control of resources, a strong defense force, etc.) Instead, what they seem to be concerned with primarily is the flourishing of the Zionist state in such a way as not to hurt others, like the Palestinians.  They have genuine sympathy for the Palestinians, and they don’t want Israel to control Palestinian destiny. But when push comes to shove, it seems to me that their motivation (whether they realize it or not) is first what’s best for the Jewish state, and second what’s the best deal they can get for the Palestinians, given their unshaken  commitment to the Jewish state.

You state honestly in your response that you oppose the aim of the global BDS movement that calls for civil equality for Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens – presumably, because that would in some way threaten the Jewishness of the Jewish state. You seem to be willing, in principle, to support a state that creates a class of citizens who are excluded from the nation represented by that state. You bear no ill will to those citizen-aliens, and I am sure you would be happy to see their lot improved. But equality is out of the question because the state has to be Jewish in the sense that Israel today is Jewish. For the same reason, you presumably agree with the majority of Israelis who believe that Israel is a state of the Jewish people and not of the Israeli people. Here, too, we disagree.

All that said, there is an issue that is more pressing than the political and ideological ones, and that is the end of a brutal, immoral Occupation that screams to heaven daily.  And here we also disagree, if not over the principle of ending the Occupation, then over its urgency.  Many liberal Zionists are deeply upset over the Occupation, but appear not to feel any real urgency about it.  You, for example, will not support a limited divestment resolution with with you  agree, because in its preamble, mention is made of the global BDS movement, and there are members of that movement, and supporters of the resolution, who want to replace the State of Israel with a democratic state of all its citizens. Until a divestment resolution comes along that is entirely detached from the global BDS movement, you will stand with more conservative groups like Standwithus -- not because you  agree with Standwithus – you clearly don’t – but because at the end of the day, on a vote that does not allow for nuance or middle ground, you vote with those who don’t recognize that there is an occupation, much less an immoral one.

I fully understand and respect the desire to stand on principle. I also understand the predicament of standing with groups with whom one does not agree. It’s not the progressive Zionist’s fault that on this issue they are caught in the middle. 

But there are several options for progressive Zionists on campus faced with the situation that you were faced with: The first is to negotiate over a divestment resolution that focuses entirely on the Occupation,  that it is not explicitly linked to the global BDS movement. When that fails, the second is to offer one’s own divestment resolution and ask others to join on one’s own terms. And when that fails, the third option is simply to abstain on the grounds that opposing the resolution will be rightly interpreted as a victory for Israel and the current government.

This, of course, brings us to the question of tactics. As ineffective as the global BDS movement has been to end the occupation, J Street’s “middle way” has done even less.  J Street U’s have been instrumental in bringing the ugly face of the Occupation to campuses, and that is indeed praiseworthy. I should have been more charitable in my initial post about that.

But acting on principle carries with it consequences, and in this case, the consequences were clear – a defeat for the Palestinians and their supporters.

Surely you are not happy about that.

Professive Zionists at U Wash Respond

With summer break upon us, I hope to post more. 

At the end of my previous post, criticizing supporters of J Street U at U Wash for voting down a divestment resolution, I asked for their response.  I received one yesterday from U Wash students Shahar Golan and Ruth Ferguson, and I am printing it below, as I received it.  I will comment on it in a separate post.

Dear Mr. Haber,

This is Ruth Ferguson and Shahar Golan. We are the two students who are building a J Street U chapter at the University of Washington. We always appreciate hearing opposition to our personal views. It is always important for us to hear critique and challenge our own opinions.

With that said, we’d like to clear a few things up. Firstly, the foundation on which this article supports itself is mistaken. There is no J Street U chapter at UW. We are J Street supporters and plan to bring a chapter to UW in the fall, but for the time being we are free agents and merely students who opposed the UW divestment resolution. In fact, if you had heard either of our public speeches during the student senate hearing, you would have heard no ties made back to J Street. We only raise this point in clarification because it should be noted we acted on behalf of ourselves, not on behalf or representative of any organization, despite misleading media reports to the contrary.

The beginning of your post spoke about when J Street had “gone outside of the family” in the past and received a “crack of the communal whip” which brought it back to conformity in the tribe. One can only assume that you were appropriating this same conformity onto us in this statement based on the rest of your post.

Interestingly, in our statements in opposition to the divestment bill, we condemned human rights violations carried out by the Israeli government, criticized the occupation of the West Bank, and acknowledged the catastrophe of Palestinian suffering at the hands of a movement with which we identify strongly. We didn’t mention all of these issues, or ultimately oppose the resolution, because of concern about communal condemnation. In fact, we fully expected condemnation. And that is fine by us.

While you missed our speeches, StandWithUs did not, and they tweeted their disgust and disdain for our opposition to the occupation. Let us explain why we personally took a stance.

As many have noted, BDS is a set of tactics. Nothing is inherently good or bad about them. The question for us is “to what end?” Why are we utilizing these tactics?

Towards what ultimate goal?

We believe in a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of both Palestinians and Jews to self-determination and lives of dignity. We support efforts that we believe lead us towards that objective, and object to efforts which we believe lead us away from that objective. With that in mind, we were opposed to the divestment resolution at our school for several reasons.

First, although the divestment was specifically targeted at certain companies involved in the occupation of the West Bank, it was explicitly stated to be a part of the “Global BDS Movement.” The three demands of the global BDS movement were stated explicitly in resolution 20-39 presented at UW, including:

1. Ending its (Israel’s) occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194

As these demands are incompatible with the two-state solution we seek, we objected to the explicitly stated goals of the resolution as part of the broader Global BDS campaign.

Second, while we seriously oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, we were worried by the specific resolution at UW, and the Global BDS Movement’s lack of clarification regarding their interpretation of the term “occupied territories”. Some groups and individuals view Israel within the 1967 borders as an occupation of Arab land, an opinion that we wholeheartedly reject.

Finally, it was unclear to us what the ultimate goal of the resolution was and whether the resolution was intended to support an end to the occupation through two-states or another framework we do not support. As the sponsoring student group, SUPER, does not endorse either a one-state or two-state solution, we felt it unwise to support a tactic without clarity on the intention of the tactic.

You constantly accused us of guilt by association with the establishment pro-Israel groups. It is no secret that we hold different views than most supporters of groups like StandWithUs. While there is sometimes overlap in goals around particular issues, like some BDS efforts, it is quite clear that while some groups are apologists for the occupation, we are not. Our work includes challenging them and exposing them for what they are. This cannot and should not preclude us from working together, as it should not preclude us from working together with Palestinian solidarity groups. Further, your appreciation of the BDS movement's mass appeal (to one and two-staters), as well as your call for us to link “arms with over fifty Palestinian civil society organizations on this one point, despite its (J Street) disagreements with them on other points”, shows a double standard you apply to those you disagree with. You praise groups and individuals that overlook their disagreements to cooperate for the BDS cause, yet you attack us for doing the same and joining Huskies Against Divestment.

We are always open to criticism, and enjoy challenging our views. We encourage you to attend J Street U events (we are not sure if you have in the past) in the upcoming school year to hear our message first hand. We felt that your thoughts regarding J Street U at UW (which does not yet exist) rested on a lack of research on the actual occurrences at the UW. We respect your opinion regarding the BDS movement, although it differs from ours, and appreciate you posting our response.

Best,

Shahar and Ruth

Sunday, June 1, 2014

J Street U’s Choice at the University of Washington

Liberal Zionists have always been caught between the rock of criticizing Zionist injustice towards the native Palestinians and the hard place of  keeping that criticism within the family. The few times that a liberal Zionist critique went outside the family (e.g., J Street’s criticism of Israel’s human rights violations at the beginning of  the Gaza Op), a crack of the communal whip brought the liberal group back into the fold. The self-deception of being able to influence the mainstream from within, together with tribal loyalty, has always made liberal Zionists much more Zionist than liberal.

Optimist that I am, I thought the younger generation of liberal Zionists was different.  These young activists seemed to have none of the self-induced neuroses of the 67-generation, those of us who had been taught to believe that Israel was on the brink of extinction before the Six Day War,  a tiny David surrounded by murderous Arab states  (a myth put to rest by historian Avi Shlaim, inter alia, in The Iron Wall.) Unlike their parents, the millennial generation of liberal Zionists had grown up with a powerful Israel that built illegal settlements, collectively punished Palestinians, erected walls ostensibly for security, but actually for more expropriation of land.  These young people listened avidly to the testimonies of the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, and in some instances were willing to cosponsor events with Students for Justice in Palestine and other Palestinian rights group. This generation of liberal Zionists may not have endorsed the global BDS movement, but it was not shocked or scandalized by that movement, nor did it see it as anti-Semitic or illegitimate.

Well, at the University of Washington, at least, the scales have fallen from my eyes.  At stake was a divestment resolution  “to examine [the U of W’s] financial assets to identify its investments in companies that provide equipment or services used to directly maintain, support, or profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” and “instruct its investment managers to divest from those companies meeting such criteria within the bounds of their fiduciary duties.”  This was a rather modest proposal, not calling for divestment from Israel companies per se, only divestment from companies that profit from the Occupation. One would have thought, one would have hoped that J Street U would have linked arms with over fifty Palestinian civil society organizations on this one point, despite its disagreements with them on other points.  One would have expected that J Street U would stand with the oppressed, even if it meant being barred from the communal tent. Or one could at least have hoped that J Street U would have said, “No divestment this year, but next year, if the injustice continues, we may reconsider our position.” Or that they would have sat this one out.

Nothing of the kind.  J Street U at University of Washington decided to link arms not with the oppressed, not even with Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace,  but rather with AIPAC and with StandWithUS.  In a remarkable show of Jewish unity, J Street U combined with the other “pro-Israel” forces  and collectively spat  in the faces of the  downtrodden and their advocates. To the cheers of the right-wingers, another BDS battle had been won by Israel, and now, certainly, J Street U had earned its place at the Jewish communal table.  Mazal tov, J Street U at U Wash!

Just like their parents and their grandparents generations, the progressive Zionists of J Street U wimped out, preferring tribal loyalty to fighting for justice, preferring it even to their own principles. Or perhaps tribal loyalty is their principle.  Like a long line of liberal Zionists before them, the negotiations took place not between Jews and Arabs  but  between Jews and Jews. They complained that the other side was not interested in dialogue.  What the other side wanted was not dialogue but joint action. That’s the way the oppressed operate.  

J Street U made its choice at the University of Washington, much to the crowing of those who were happy to see the Palestinians in abject defeat.  They learned their lesson well -- criticize the tribe, but only from within the tribe. Call for boycott, but only the token “Zionist BDS”  of the settlements.  Oppose the Occupation, but never, never, even begin to punish Israel for the Occupation.  Call for peace now, but make sure that the playing field for the negotiations is skewed in favor of Israel.

And above all, never let the present intolerable injustice get in the way of the illusion of a two-state solution “just around the corner if we only work hard enough.”

I welcome a member of the J Street U at the University of Washington to respond.  I was unable to find a statement that differed from the self-congratulations of the mainstream.  Tell me why you have not become the “useful idiots,” the liberal fig-leafs, of those who support the  people and the mentality that brought us this immoral mess. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Abunimah and Barghouti: The Global BDS Movement is Compatible With a Two-State Solution (Old News)

Some of the initial comments on the post below, in which I envisioned a two-state solution compatible with the three calls of the global BDS movement, were dismissive.  The comments  claimed that Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah (inter alia) are “spokespeople” or “leaders” of the global BDS movement, and they are one-staters. So that must mean that the global BDS movement is one-state (by the law of invalid reasoning.)

My initial response was that “the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la, have nothing to do with the case.” Nobody is an official spokesman for the global BDS movement; the movement exists as a coalition of organizations that are bound by the three calls endorsed by Palestinian civil society organizations.  One can be a one-stater, a two-stater, a no-stater, and sign up to the calls.

But then I read a post by Ali Abunimah from EI last year, and it turns out that both he and Barghout agree with me, at least to the extent that they believe that the global BDS movement is compatible with a two-state solution.  In fact, this is no secret; Barghouti actually says this in the book he wrote on the subject. According to  Abunimah

Omar Barghouti makes this point in his book BDS: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights:

While individual BDS activists and advocates may support diverse political solutions, the BDS movement as such does not adopt any specific formula and steers away from the one-state-versus-two-states debate, focusing instead on universal rights and international law, which constitute the solid foundation of the Palestinian consensus around the campaign. Incidentally, most networks, unions, and political parties in the BNC still advocate a two-state solution outside the realm of the BDS movement (pages 51-52)

In other words, most of the Palestinian endorsers of BDS advocate a two-state solution, though not within the realm of the campaign, which does not take a stand either way. Surprise to some, not to me.

The issue is not whether the BDS movement is compatible with a  Jewish state. The issue is what is the nature of Jewish state with which the BDS movement is compatible. Is it compatible with an Israeli  state with a vibrant Israeli Jewish culture in the public and private spheres? Is it compatible with a state in which Israeli Jewish holidays are national holidays, Hebrew is an official language, and Jewish culture is taught in the schools? Absolutely.

Is is compatible with a Jewish state in which Jews are ethnically privileged by law over non-Jews?  No, it is not.

And that is what makes most Zionists opposed to the global BDS movement, even many of the so-called liberal or progressive variety.

Anyway, I urge people to read Abunimah’s post, “Why do Zionists falsely claim [the] BDS movement opposes two-state solution?” Had I known of its existence when I wrote my post below, I would have simply pointed to it and saved myself a lot of time. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

What if the Global BDS Movement Were to Achieve Its Goals?

What is the genius of the three calls of the global BDS movement, endorsed in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations?

Very simple: their moderation and eminent reasonableness.

Here are the calls, once again:
  1. Ending [Israel’s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
As I have pointed out repeatedly, each one of these calls only makes sense under the assumption that the State of Israel exists. And this is what bedevils the opponents of the BDS movement. They would prefer that the BDS movement call for the demise of the Jewish state . They would prefer that the third call demand explicitly  the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, and not merely “promoting the rights…as stipulated in UN Resolution 194,” which was overwhelmingly adopted in the UN, including by the United States, after it had recognized the Jewish state.  Since there is still a consensus in the world for the legitimacy of a Jewish state (though no consensus for the particular sort of Jewish state that Israel has become), the opponents of BDS would love the movement  to say that the goal is the elimination of the Jewish state, or replacement of the Israel  by another state in which Jews would be an ethnic minority.

But it doesn’t.  And that is not just a tactic. The truth is that there are Palestinians who don’t want’ to live in a secular state with millions of Israeli Jews. They would prefer their own state. But they also want dignity and equality for those Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel as well as the right of the refugees to return to their homeland, as called for by international law and convention, and UN resolution.

These eminently moderate calls  befuddle the defenders of the status-quo post 1948,   forcing them to say  – without a scrap of evidence – that  all this is a trick, that there is “hidden agenda,” “implied by the goals,” or, at least, a “possible (negative) implication of the goals.”  

Ask a liberal Zionist why she opposes the third call, and she may say, again without a scrap of evidence, that it would imply Israel being swamped by millions of hostile Palestinians. In other words, she would make an entirely nonsensical claim that has nothing to do with the third call.

Let’s make a thought experiment, shall we? Let’s imagine that the State of Israel is so negatively affected by the BDS movement that it ends the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967, dismantles the Wall, recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and respects, promotes, and protects the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.  And let’s give a specific scenario: the Jewish settlers are resettled within the 1967 borders, the Law of Return and the Citizenship law are amended to allow for full equality between Israeli-Jews and Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel in citizenship and immigration, and all the legislation that discriminates against Arab-Palestinians is abolished. (Indeed, according to most liberal Zionists, there is very little discriminatory legislation to begin with. )

Moreover, let’s assume something really unlikely, that around a million Palestinians opt to return to their homes and properties, a number that far exceeds all current projections in polls of Palestinians. And remember that, according to resolution 194, they return after having declared that they are willing to live in peace with the Israelis and to abide by the laws of Israel.
Under those circumstances, the State of Israel would have a population that would be over 70% Jewish and under 30% non-Jewish. it would be a state of all its citizens. Its official languages and cultures would continue to be Hebrew and Arabic; Judaism, Islam, and Christianity would continue to play a role (too large a one, in my opinion!) in the public sphere. In many respects it would be indistinguishable from Israel today, only less racist and discriminatory.
Now what would be so bad about that? I mean, even from a Zionist point of view?
Yet this democratic Israel is the nightmare scenario that the opponents of BDS really fear. Because they are not interested in a liberal democracy with a  a strong Jewish/Hebraic cultural content. They are interested in a state in which Jews qua Jews occupy a position of privilege,  a state in which non-Jews are recognized as “citizen strangers.” to use Shira Robinson’s felicitous phrase.  The anti-BDS folks want Israel to be for the Arabs like Poland was for the Jews, where Jews were citizens, but not really part of the Polish nation. This is what Israel has been since 1948, and this is what many liberal Zionists defend
And that  brings me back to the brilliance of the BDS movement, and why it is gaining traction in the world: More and more people are beginning  to understand that its aims are  much more moderate and moral  than the status quo within 1967 Israel.
And that what provokes many of the opponents of BDS to  misrepresent the global BDS movement, or to give absurd arguments against it, such as that the Palestinians should be more concerned with the slaughter in Syria, or human rights violations in China, than their own suffering in Palestine.
After all, by that reasoning, those who protested the treatment of Soviet Jewry in the 1970s were moral hypocrites, since they should have been out protesting the genocide in Cambodia during the same years.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Maryland General Assembly Concludes: BDS is not Anti-Semitic nor Should It be Demonized

It started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Or as the Turks used to say (and Israelis still say), “The mountain gave birth to a mouse.”

In the wake of the American Studies Association’ decision to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education, bills were introduced in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates that would forbid state colleges and universities from using state funds for institutional memberships in the American Studies Association (the University of Maryland at Baltimore County is a member), and travel to and from its conferences.  The penalty for such travel? A  3% deduction from the state allocation to that university.

It seemed like an easy sell. After all, some of the presidents of the universities had harshly criticized the ASA decision, and nobody supported it. All of them oppose BDS. How can Palestinians and/or leftwingers compete with the power of the Baltimore and Suburban Maryland organized Jewish communities? 

Yet in the end the bill stalled in committee, and relatively tepid language condemning the ASA and opposing the global BDS movement, produced in committee,  was ratified as an amendment to the budget narrative– not even as a separate resolution. 

Anti-boycotters will say, rightly, that for the first time the state had declared its opposition to the global BDS movement.  But oh, boy, did they lose this round.

From the beginning, legislative sources indicated to me that the 3% penalty was dead in the water. That became quickly apparent after public disagreement broke out between the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Washington Jewish Community Relations Council, which thought the bill went too far. The universities were dead-set against the bill. The principle advocate of the bill, delegate Ben Kramer, thought the penalty essential:  He was quoted as saying “Why have a law if there are no sanctions, no penalties? Penalties are what cause people to abide by the law…The penalty will mean nothing unless a university decides to violate the law.”

So Kramer and the anti-BDS movement lost round one big time. But round two was more interesting, since the universities effectively dropped out of the picture. And here’s where the anti-Boycott movement was emasculated.  Here’s the original language, which was provided to Kramer by some pro-Israel group (or Israeli government agency). Identical language is cropping up in other state legislatures.

The [Maryland] General Assembly finds that anti-Semitism is an intolerable and ugly form of bigotry, prejudice, and hostility directed toward individuals of the Jewish faith and the State of Israel, often based on ethnic, cultural, or religious identity; Israel, a democratic nation, the only country in the Middle East that is a democracy, is a strong ally of the United States based on shared values and interests and invaluable cooperation in cybersecurity, medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, and bilateral trade and commerce, as well as educational, research, and cultural exchanges; the American Studies Association is an academic organization composed of approximately 5,000 members, all of whom are members of academia specializing in the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history; the American Studies Association, through a vote of its members, has endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and their scholars who are serving as representatives from those institutions; the boycott adopted by the American Studies Association is consistent with a movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel; and the State of Maryland has ratified a Declaration of Cooperation with the State of Israel resulting in the successful exchange of commerce, culture, technology, tourism, trade, economic development, scholarly inquiry, and academic cooperation, which has served to improve the quality of the lives of their respective peoples for well over two decades.

The General Assembly further finds that an academic boycott of Israel: is antithetical to the principles of academic freedom and to the free and open exchange of ideas; results in the restriction and stifling of Israeli scholars and Israeli institutions of higher education; disengages Israeli scholars and Israeli institutions of higher education from invaluable global academic collaborations and conferences; and invokes fear among the international academic community by creating a hostile learning environment and condoning the use of an academic community as a political pawn.

The General Assembly declares that it is the policy of the State to  condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the American Studies Association’s academic boycott against Israel as an inappropriate act on the part of the academic community; recognize that such conduct, particularly within centers of academic study, is unacceptable and must be denounced; and strongly encourage that all colleges and universities support the open flow of public discourse, debate, and academic freedom, particularly with respect to nations with which Maryland has a ratified Declaration of Cooperation;

Here is some of how Kramer defended the amendment on the floor or the house:

Now the ASA is welcome to its discriminatory boycott. It is welcome to be as racist as they choose. That is called freedom of speech. However, the people of the state of Maryland do not have to use their public dollars to support such a racist organization. Particularly when it undermines Maryland’s state policy as articulated in the declaration of cooperation which MD and Israel have shared since 1988 and every one of you should have a copy of that declaration sent to you by email this morning. As a result of that relationship, as established through the referenced document, the people of MD and Israel have benefited greatly financially, intellectually, and academically. The amendment that I am offering would simply prohibit the use of public dollars by a public university by being used to pay for membership in or travel to an organization that has declared a boycott against Israel or its universities. it’s just that simple. Allowing public dollars to be used for such a purpose is antithetical to our state policy and completely undermines the beneficial relationship that we share with Israel and that serves Maryland's people so well. There is nothing that will prohibit anybody from being a member of this organization. Nothing at all. There is nothing that will  prohibit someone from attending one of this organization’s events. Absolutely nothing. there is no sanction of any kind against any professor who chooses to do this.They are free to be members in the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan if they so choose. But must we subsidize their travel costs with public dollars to attend the cross-burnings? I say ‘no.’ We have no responsibility to use public dollars for that purpose.

The ASA members who support BDS are free to be members of the Ku Klux Klan!

Due to a concerted effort by progressives in the state, aided by a direct appeal from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Senate and House of Delegates budget reconciliation committee  watered down the Kramer amendment to the following:

The General Assembly finds that: (1) intellectual and academic freedom are essential to democracy, human rights, human enlightenment, and human progress; (2) academic boycotts against institutions of higher education and their faculty are anathema to free societies and free minds; and (3) official state control of intellectual inquiry and activity is a mark of authoritarian societies and is strongly disfavored in a pluralistic democratic culture.  The General Assembly declares that it is the policy of the State to: (1) reaffirm our Declaration of Cooperation with the State of Israel that has resulted in the successful exchange of commerce, culture, technology, tourism, trade, economic development, scholarly inquiry, and academic cooperation for well over two decades; (2) oppose Maryland public institutions’ support of the movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel; (3) condemn the American Studies Association’s boycott against institutions of higher education in Israel; (4) affirm intellectual and academic freedom in Maryland and our reputation as a leader in intellectual inquiry and dialogue; and (5) strongly encourage that all colleges, universities, faculty, staff, and students protect and advance the open flow of public discourse, debate, and academic freedom.”.

BDS as anti-semitic or racist? Gone.  Forbidding the use of public funds to support travel to ASA conferences? Gone. Condemnation of institutional membership in the ASA? Gone. Condemnation of the ASA “in the strongest possible terms”? At least half-gone.

Instead, you have “opposition” to the “the movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel.” Heck, the sentence is ambiguous enough to actually allow support of any BDS movement against Israel that is not designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel, but simply to call upon it to honor human rights.

In short, the global BDS movement.

The State of Maryland is known as liberal and overwhelmingly democratic, so I wouldn’t infer anything from the defeat of the Kramer bill for other states.

But it is heartening to know that under severe pressure in an election year, the legislature took a position that is articulated by J Street and other liberal Zionists, and rejected a position that has overwhelming support in the activist pro-Israel community.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

“Why Isn’t Aelia Capitolina On Your Map?”

csjp_banner

In May 1948, a minority of Palestinian residents, mostly recent settlers from Europe, declared an independent state against the wishes of the majority. This was the latest in a series of inter-communal disturbances that had followed the passage of the UN Partition Plan, and one which precipitated an expected intervention of Arab armies from neighboring states. At the end of the war, Palestine was partitioned by the new State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Egypt. Most of the inhabitants of Palestine, Palestinian Arabs,  had been forced out of areas they had lived in, directly or indirectly. Some, much fewer, Jews suffered the same fate. Over the next few years, five hundred Palestinian villages were destroyed; Palestinian place names were changed, many of the native Palestinian, including Palestinians living in the state who should have been considered citizens according to the Declaration of Independence, were not allowed to return to their homes. In many cases. Jewish refugees were resettled in those homes.  In a space of a few years, Palestine was literally and figuratively wiped off the map.

In light of the above, I am disturbed that Jewish students at Barnard are disturbed by seeing a map of Palestine calling for Justice in Palestine that doesn’t have the State of Israel on the map. If they are disturbed by the thought that the State of Israel is not on the map, why aren’t they disturbed at the actual destruction of Palestine that occurred in 1948? Do they think that Palestine ceased to exist after the British Mandate expired?  That Palestinians have no homeland? That they came from Brigadoon or Atlantis?

“You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe. Tell that to the Zionists who to this day claim the Land of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.  Just as the Land of Israel exists, Palestine still exists, and will always exist as along as Palestinian Arabs remember it and wish its continued existence.  I simply cannot fathom how any Zionist cannot understand this. Imagine the Romans saying to the Jews of their time, “Wishing to return to Jerusalem is personally offensive to us. Why isn’t Aelia Capitolina on your map? You lost. Get over it.” Would that carry any weight with Jews then or during the ages? Would it carry any weight with Zionists today?”

At Barnard the Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner stating, “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine,” (see above) and the administration took it down.

I don’t want to get into the free speech vs. private institution issue.  If I did, I would say that I am pretty much a free speech absolutist, especially when it comes to college campuses.

I want to talk about the sign itself. I understand why pro-Israel students are disturbed by the sign,  but from a moral standpoint, they should get over it.  To this day, I am viscerally disturbed by some aspects of Christianity, and going into churches is not easy for me. That’s because as an orthodox Jew, I get  that there is a fundamental incommensurability between the two religions,such that if I am right, they are wrong, and vice-versa.  But while I do not agree with the belief that Jesus was the messiah, I can’t imagine protesting a banner that expresses this Christian belief. I would oppose, of course,  a banner that says, “All Jews/Christians are going to hell” or “Throw the Zionists/Palestinians into the sea”.

So while it is understandable that some Jewish students have a visceral response to the banner, I would hope that they would have the sensitivity to understand, even if they don’t agree, that Palestine is eternal for the Palestinians, just as the Land of Israel is eternal for the Jews. 

As for the J Street students who think that such banners are “unhelpful” for a two-state solution, I ask, “Why so?” After all, even if the Palestinians accept a small, truncated state in Palestine, it will never replace Palestine for them, no more than that state will have any effect whatever on Eretz Yisrael for me.

What I am saying is not rocket science. I live in what will forever be Occupied Palestine for Palestinians, and Eretz Yisrael for Jews.  I will not support any ideology that wants to bring chaos and suffering to people who are justifiably in their land. I will try to seek for solutions that will maximize justice.

To my fellow Jews I say right now – Palestine never went away and is not going away. Palestine remembered is Palestine forever. Please read my post here about how Jews should relate to Palestine.

After all, the primary victims of the Zionist movement have been the Palestinians – so if sensitivity is required, then sensitivity for the weaker and more aggrieved party is in order, isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why I (Still) Love Living in Israel

Yesterday I wrote that living in Israel for Jews (especially Jews who have a steady income) is like flying business class, or like being in an airport club, that “membership has its privileges”. That may have left the reader with the impression that this is the only reason I like being here. That’s not the case.

I cannot deny that despite all my misgivings about the state of Israel, its past, present, and immediate future, I like being here. In fact, I really like being here. Here’s why:

I like Israelis, and I don’t mean just Israeli Jews. There is something about Israel that makes this place feel like a small town. I would say shtetl but that’s too Jewish. There is a national character, an Israeliness that, like every Israeli, I both criticize and celebrate. When traveling abroad I always run into Israelis, everywhere. There is a freshness, a newness to this place that reflects some sort of innate optimism. Maybe some of that is Jewish, but it’s not just that. How can the Palestinians not be optimistic – they have survived their ongoing Nakbah, and their community, and the world’s recognition of its aspirations, is growing. 

Second, I have lived here for so long that it has become home to me.  Not so much as a Jew – as a Jew home is where my community and shul are – but as somebody who became an Israeli citizen many years ago. It’s because Israel is home to me that I view Israelis as family, and I like family. Families get into arguments, but family is family. And when my family screws up, it pains me, but it’s also my responsibility.

Third, it’s hard to  be a Jew here, real hard, and that’s part of what makes life interesting, especially for somebody like me, who is a very Jewish Jew.   Pace A. B. Yehoshua, I can’t think of any place in the world where it is harder to be a Jew than in Israel. Here’s an example: When I was growing up, I used to listen to the Christian fundamentalists on Sunday religion shows. As a privileged suburban Jewish liberal I used to think that Judaism was more rational, more liberal a religion that Christianity. I suffered from the same moral chauvinism that many tribalists feel about their own tribe.  It’s only when I came to Israel and learned that whatever craziness gentiles had, Jews also had it in spades, and that whatever bigotry the Southern (and Northern) whites had in the past, some Jews also had it. Only in Israel did I realize that my feelings of moral superiority were misplaced. I learned that  Judaism was a lot more than the lofty sentiments of “Pentateuch” with Rabbi Hertz’s commentary (or any book written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks),  and that my people continued to commit sins in the name of “Jewish survival” or “Judaism”  just as folks from other religions did it (and that includes the religion of nationalism and secularism.)  I suppose I could have learned the same thing growing up in some neighborhoods in New York, but only in Israel did I meet those folks for the first time.

Of course, that doesn’t sound like a reason to love Israel, no more than you love a persistent pain. Perhaps it’s better to say that I am grateful for the difficulties of being a Jew here because of its impact on my moral smugness.

There’s a final reason why I love Israel. I still have faith that it can become a decent, even inspiring society, and I say that because of my faith in humanity and my familiarity with Israelis.  I can envision a truly liberal democracy, a state of all its citizens, where all Israelis learn about and celebrate the two major national cultures and the many religious cultures here.  I can envision an Israel that grows ups, that admits its responsibility for the ongoing Nakbah, that invites Palestinians to build with Israeli Jews a just society, that tries to make amends, an Israel that bears a special responsibility for the welfare and the flourishing of the Palestinian people.  As I have said before, the Palestinians were the collateral damage, not the intended damage,  of the Zionist enterprise, and so Israelis, primarily Israeli Jews,  have a collective and historical relationship towards the Palestinians and their national aspirations. Hakarat ha-het – recognizing the sin of responsibility for the ongoing Nakbah– is the first step in the process of repentance.  A just society can be  built here, and that should be the primary task of Jews in the twenty-first century, especially those Jews for whom Israel is a special place. It may take decades and generations, but I believe it can come.

So, yes, that is a dream, and  I realize that for some of my coreligionists it is a nightmare, that they would rather continue living according to the blessing of  Esau – “by the sword” -- for the sake of political power, privilege, dominion, “Jewish pride.” It will always be easier for tribalists to live like Simeon and Levi than like Jacob.  

But I still have faith that things can be different and that ultimately, whatever political arrangement, which means little to me, these two peoples can flourish together.  They are certainly not going away.

Anyway, that’s my dream, and I haven’t given up on it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Thoughts on Purim.

1. Binationalism in the eyes of Israelis. Ask most Israel supporters what they they think of binationalism, and they will say, “Look at Lebanon; that hasn’t worked out very well, has it?” But that depends on whom you ask, right? After all, a Christian in Lebanon is better off than a Palestinian on the West Bank. So what the Zionists really mean is, “We will have less security in a binational state because we won’t have total control over the Palestinians who live under our authority.”

2. Binationalism in the eyes of Palestinians. Ask most Palestinians what they think of binationalism, and they will say, “We want our own state.” What they really mean is that they are sick of Jews determining their lives, and that they have no desire to share power with Jews, especially since they will probably get the short end of the stick in a binational state. The irony is that both Israeli Jews and Palestinians think that their national identity will be compromised in a binational state. These peoples have so much in common….

3. The Israeli binationalist nightmare scenario. If there were one state, argue Israel supporters, the Palestinians would obtain a majority, start persecuting the Jewish minority, which would only grow after many Israelis leave the country. And then the nightmare would really begin. I have heard some intelligent, liberal Jews give this argument. Which just goes how deep racism is among those intelligent, liberal Jews.  The group that has most to fear from binationalism are the Palestinians. After all, only one country was wiped off the map, and it wasn’t the State of Israel, was it? Who would have power in a binational state? Israeli Jews, even if there were fewer of them. Look how well they did against the Palestinians when they were outnumbered.

4. Haman in Jerusalem.  I went to a reading of the Book of Esther by Israeli Litvaks. What that means is that qua Litvaks they were concerned with Jewish law; qua Israelis they raised a huge ruckus every time Haman’s name was mentioned. The reader would say Haman’s name, and the kids would explode for around 30 seconds of noise. Then, in order to ensure that everybody had heard Haman’s name (according to Jewish law, everybody should hear every word of the megillah), the reader repeated Haman’s name, this time without the noise.  So Haman’s name was mentioned twice as many times as written in order to fulfill the non-mitzvah of blotting out his name. This is the logical conclusion of a moronic custom.

5. Membership has its privileges. Jews enjoy going to Israel. Even tourists feel that this a kind of home for them. If Israel were a plane, then Jews would be in  Business Class; Israeli Palestinians would be  in Economy, and Palestinians in the Occupied Territory would be  in the luggage hold. That’s one of the reasons why Jews don’t want Israel to change. Who wants to  be thrown out of Business Class?

6. Moral delusion. Ami Gluska has an opinion piece in Haaretz showing that Ben Gurion was willing to have an Arab president. Over the opposition of the religious Zionists, he argued that “A constitution that would prevent an Arab from being president is inconceivable. Rabbi Berlin has quoted so many verses against me for nothing. Any citizen can be elected president of the state, and if a majority is found to elect an Arab president, there will be no discrimination in the Jewish state. I suppose that it will also not be called Jewish State.” Gluska points out that when Ben-Gurion wrote this, he had accepted a state that had around 40% Arabs, and, together with the communists, there was a real possibility that there could be an Arab president.

What Gluska doesn’t mention is that Ben-Gurion’s acceptance of partition was merely tactical; that he fully expected a transfer of Arabs outside of the Jewish state; that at the first opportunity he acquiesced and even favored expulsion; that he placed the Arabs who remained under military government and infiltrated their society with secret service. So while theoretically it was possible that there could be an Arab president, he knew that there never would be one, nor did he actually want one. What he wanted was a state that could be an imagined democracy, a state that could be built on theoretical democratic principles without ceding any real privileges to non-Jews. Thus Arabs would have the vote so they could vote for Mapai candidates, in exchange for which the mukhtars would be properly rewarded, and they could express their opinions in the Knesset provided they had no real political power.

I don’t think this was a cynical ploy on the part of Ben-Gurion. I think it was part of a schizophrenic personality, one that insisted on liberal values on principle while violating those principles in practice. One sees this time after time in his actions as Zionist leader and then prime minister: he talked the democratic talk, but he walked the nationalist walk. In that sense, he was the quintessential Mapainik – talking about equality for the Arabs while ensuring that they stay behind.

This moral delusion – delusion, more than duplicity – is deep in the Israeli psyche and expressed beautifully in the phrase “Jewish and democratic”.

7. Israel as the Nation State of the Jews. I call myself a Zionist but many people claim that I am not, because I oppose Israel as an ethnic exclusivist state. Zionists, they say, affirm Israel as the nation state of the Jews. So by requiring Palestinians to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jews, Israel is saying that the Palestinians must become Zionists – or at least profess Zionism – for them to have their own state. That’s like Christians requiring Jews to believe in Jesus in order for Jews to have their self-determination. Or better, that’s like the rapist requiring his victim to accept the legitimacy of the rape.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Partial Correction on the Atarot Post

Subscribers: Please check out my blog here because this post will be virtually incomprehensible if you can’t see the maps.

I criticized the NY Times for changing an article in response to misinformation given then by the rightwing pro-Israel media watchdog group CAMERA. Here’s what I said;

After CAMERA weighed in, this was the version that was on the [NY Times] web[site]

Israel opened an industrial zone in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot, which had been Jewish before 1948, shortly after recapturing it along with the rest of the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war.

One sentence, three mistakes:

  • There was no East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot before 1948.
  • There was no Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem called  Atarot before 1948.
  • The Atarot industrial zone does not even overlap  geographically with the tiny Jewish settlement  of Atarot that fell to the Jordanians in the 1948 war.

 

All the above is correct. But I went on to say that the Jewish settlement of Atarot was not even in the expanded municipal boundaries. I said that on the basis of this map from the Civil Administration, provided me by Dror Etkes.

 

atarot

 

The purple is the area bounded by the city line. Since the blue and white area on the upper left was Jewish land prior to 1948, and that area was tagged in the map “Atarot,” Dror and I assumed that this was the spot of the settlement of Atarot. It may actually been its lands. But it appears that the actual settlement was slightly south, or  south east of the present-day air-strip (considerably expanded in 1972 from the British air strip built on lands obtained from Atarot.)

This was pointed out to me by  Professor Brendan McKay – the well-known Australian debunker of the Bible Codes hoax (among other things).  He was kind enough to send me a British map from 1944.

Atarot_1944

 

and a modern map:

 

Atarot_modern

 

and to write, “on this evidence the buildings of Atarot were at the place which has the elevation mark “757” just below the centre of the runway in the modern map.”

This is somewhat confirmed by the following passage from Meron Benveniste that Etkes sent me: “See the runway that appears in all the maps -- slightly to its south east, you will find the settlement [of Atarot]. Part of it was destroyed by the British in order to build the airstrip, and part was destroy in 1948 after its evacuation.”

Still, prima facie we have a case of dueling maps: the British map of 1944 and the Civil Administration map provided to Etkes. The area tagged Atarot in that map may have been a mistake, or a partial reference to Atarot’s lands  there. 

To conclude: so far the evidence appears to be in favor of Atarot being south east of the center of the modern runway and not to its west. (Remember the modern runway is not identical with the British airstrip.)

I would like to thank Brendan McKay and Dror Etkes for spending their time on this. Etkes actually drove to Atarot today to check out the terrain but couldn’t find anything.

For the moment, I’ll go with the British map. But as I said, this really had nothing to do with the errors made by the New York Times, prompted by CAMERA.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why the NY Times Atarot Snafu Matters

Some readers wondered why I devoted a whole post to showing that the NY Times “corrected” a story about Atarot  by repeating a rightwing media’s group’s errors. I mean, so what if the Industrial Zone of Atarot is not in the same geographical area as the pre-1948 Jewish settlement of Atarot?  So what if the NY Times got it wrong? They spelled the name right, so why be obsessed?

Dear Reader, may I suggest that the story is emblematic of how Israel creates facts on the ground, and how the mainstream media just adopts the Israeli narrative.

Israel assumes that because there was a Jewish presence in a certain area prior to 1948, that gives Israel a prima facie right to “resettle,” and even to assert sovereignty over that area.  For some that settlement can date from Biblical times; for others, it may be a modern settlement.  But the principle is the same, and that’s what motivated, for example, CAMERA to make the claim that the Atarot Industrial Zone was part of the pre-1948 Jewish village Atarot.

Even if that were true, the obvious response would be, “so what”? For every Jewish village that surrendered to the Jordanian army in 1948, there are tens, if not hundreds of Palestinian villages that surrendered. If there is a claim to return in one case, then there is a claim to return to another.  Ditto for sovereignty.

But it’s not true, and the reason is that it’s not true is the Israeli propensity of vastly enlarging the territory that it claims that it settled prior to 1948.

Ask most Israelis whether it was right to settle in the Etzion Bloc, or whether the Etzion Bloc should be part of a Palestinian state, and you will hear the same argument: “Jews lived there before 1948.” But the Etzion Bloc has tripled three times in size since then. Including area that was never part of the Etzion Bloc, Israel is quite literally moving the borders in an effort to claim legitimacy. And this happens again and again and again.

The biggest case is Jerusalem.  I am going to shock some of my readers with what I am about to say – but I am willing to support a solution in which Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of the State of Israel, wholly under Jewish sovereignty. Yes, you head me --  the “rock of our existence,” the geographic locale towards which Jews prayed for centuries, should be the undivided capital of the State of Israel! There should be one minor proviso. “Jerusalem” should be  limited (generously) to the Old City and perhaps part of Silwan, because THAT was the Jerusalem that  was the “rock of our existence.” In exchange for having  the Haram al-Sharif remain under Israeli sovereignty, though clearly with religious administration given to the Waqf, the rest of present-day Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian state.  Jews can live in West Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty.  The fact is that Jews have no historical claims to neighborhoods outside the wall of the Old City until the end of the nineteenth century – and nobody ever prayed towards Yemin Moshe!

But, of course, that’s not the way it works in the Israeli mind-set. If Jerusalem’s municipal border were expanded to include Bet Shemesh to the West, Israel would argue that that too was Jerusalem. This was the trap that CAMERA caused the NY Times to fall into.  Israel declares lands that were never part of Jerusalem  to be Jerusalem in an effort to take them off the negotiating table. And in many case, the mainstream media buys it.

You think I’m exaggerating? Here’s how Jodi Rudoren describes Ramot Shlomo:

The Israeli government announced Wednesday that it had given final approval for 1,500 new apartments in a particularly contentious Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and moved forward on plans for a controversial park and tourism center here, prompting Palestinian accusations that it is not taking the Washington-brokered peace talks seriously.

On the one hand she calls Ramot Shlomo a “settlement” and not a “neighborhood”.  But when she says that it is in East Jerusalem, she places Ramot Shlomo on the same level as Jewish settlement in pre-67 East Jerusalem, like the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.  But Ramot Shlomo is NOT in East Jerusalem, or rather, the area was not East Jerusalem until Israel expanded its borders to include it.  So by not noting that its being part of Jerusalem is itself disputed, the Times already makes it into a dispute as to whether Jews have a claim to this area of “East Jerusalem.”

Ditto for Gilo and Har Homah and for all other neighborhoods in expanded Jerusalem.

The NY Times response will be, “We describe matters as they now stand; we don’t have to add a note saying that the territory was only considered  Jerusalem after 1967.”  But there should be a distinction made between was was Jerusalem and what became Jerusalem by Israel’s expansion ,largely in order to maintain a demographic balance of 80% Jews to 20% Arabs, and to provide for Jewish growth.  (There were  further economic reasons, but that’s another story.)

All it takes for the NY Times is to add the phrase “Israeli expanded” before “Jerusalem,” and that will be accurate enough.